When Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he began with a majestic introduction of how deep the gospel really is. He calls himself a servant of Christ Jesus "called..and set apart for the gospel of God, the gospel he promised beforehand..." (Romans 1:1-2). You can almost hear the awe in his writing, the amazement that he had been included in this cosmic redemptive plan of God.
In the first six verses of Romans we have an incredible framework for the gospel.
The gospel is good news centred on Jesus
Paul is a servant of Christ Jesus and called to be an apostle, a sent one, a representative of the person of Jesus. We shall see that the Trinitarian God is revealed in these verses but the focus is on Jesus. If the good news is not about Jesus it is not the gospel.
2. The gospel is rooted in history
In Romans 1:2 it says "the gospel he promised beforehand." This good news story goes back a long way, as early as the first chapters of Genesis. Scholars refer to the protevanglium in Genesis 3:15 as the first mention of the good news of salvation in the Bible. The thread of the gospel runs throughout the Old Testament in books of history, wisdom and prophecy.
3. The gospel is promised through the prophetic writings
According to Romans 1:2 this gospel was promised "beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures." The Old Testament is full of references to the redemptive plan of God including many Messianic prophecies. How many prophecies are there in the Old Testament that were fulfilled by Jesus? Scholars differ in their answers, generally ranging from about 200 to 400. There are dozens that are clearly a reference to Jesus such as the place he was born, the kind of life he would lead, his ministry and the nature of his death and resurrection.
4. The gospel is about a person who connects to our humanness.
In Romans 1:3 it says the gospel is "regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David." Jesus is not just a heavenly figure, he is of the earth. The Message translation of John 1:14 says "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood."
Jesus, the Word is physically connected to real people in a real place. His humanness really matters, he is one of us. He feels pain, he understands the frailty of our earthiness. He had a family, friends and place to call home. He is not a distant but immersed in our experience and our world.
5. The gospel is about a person who overcomes the power of sin and death
Whilst fully human, Jesus is also "the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 1:4) The resurrection marks out Jesus to be fully human and divine. It makes Jesus unique among all of humankind. It reveals the coming of heaven to earth in the person of Jesus through the power of the Spirit. This is a Trinitarian act, the Father sends the Son in the power of the Spirit. No-one else has the ability or call to overcome sin and death, only Jesus. That makes him exclusively the One able and willing. Who else could do it? No other figure in history however well-meaning is qualified. Sin and death are universal problems that all people need a solution too.
6. Through Jesus we have grace to call others into this gospel
It is through him and for him that we call others into this glorious experience. Jesus is both the good news and the one who releases those who share good news. Romans 1:5 explains that we receive "grace to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake."
This radical gospel of inclusion to a global community was so shocking to the Jewish people and the worshippers of Roman gods that Paul was often beaten, left for dead and finally killed by the Roman authorities. It turned the known world upside down. When we consider the response Paul received as he went from city to city, it shows how incendiary this message really is. Here's an example in Acts 17:2-6:
"Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas,as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.
5 But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’shouse in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here."
Somehow this radical, cosmic sized gospel became domesticated and diminished. It became a Sunday school version of itself, it became a personal salvation story rather than the true gospel revealed through history, prophecy and the person of Jesus, the human divine Messiah.
What should we do? The simple answer is:
Rediscover the gospel, go back to scripture, read the stories of the first disciples and the reaction their message provoked. If our gospel is not having the same effect, ask why. Ask "is my gospel message somehow domesticated or diminished, and if so, how do I restore it back to its glorious truth?"
It is a tactic of the enemy to undermine the good news, let's do the opposite.
*I recommend reading Scot McNight's book The King Jesus Gospel: The original good news revisited.